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NATO Chief Vows Continued Support For Afghan Forces

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg of Norway took office on October 1.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has vowed during a visit to Kabul that the alliance will continue to support Afghanistan after foreign combat troops withdraw by the end of the year.

Stoltenberg told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on November 6 that NATO will continue to work closely with Afghanistan after the draw down, which will leave some 12,000 foreign troops in the country.

He said the purpose of the NATO mission in Afghanistan after 2015 is "to train, advise, and assist Afghan security forces."

Stoltenberg, on his first visit to Afghanistan since becoming NATO chief on October 1, said the change in mission reflects how well Afghanistan has developed its own strong, national forces.

He described Afghanistan's security forces of some 350,000 soldiers and police as a "strong, capable force."

Stoltenberg said they have proven themselves while taking the lead "in security in this country for more than a year."

He said he viewed some Afghan commando units earlier on November 6 and was impressed with their quality and determination, saying "all Afghans can be very proud of their armed forces."

Stoltenberg reiterated that NATO forces in Afghanistan -- on a mission called Resolute Support -- will not take part in combat missions.

He said it will be "a new chapter" for NATO in which Afghanistan's future is "in the hands of the Afghan people."

Stoltenberg, who met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, said that NATO will continue to help provide funding for Afghanistan's security forces.

Ghani said after meeting with Stoltenberg in Kabul that Afghanistan needs financial and material resources for its armed forces and that Kabul is "reassured" by NATO's continued commitment to train and equip Afghan forces.

Stoltenberg said he discussed with Ghani the situation in the region and relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

He said it's "very important that Afghanistan and Pakistan cooperate and I welcome very much the engagement and the statements from President Ghani on the issue of closer cooperation with Pakistan."

Stoltenberg also said he welcomed the visit by Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif, who was also in Kabul on November 6.

The NATO chief said he views the visit as "an expression of closer cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan."

NATO troops have been training Afghan security forces and fighting against the Taliban and other militant groups for 13 years.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and dpa